Black female physicians face challenges just doing their jobs
When Melanie Gordon, MD, FACP, walks into a patient’s room at the John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County in Chicago, she’s frequently misidentified as a nurse, a dietician or someone else.
“I once had a patient who kept talking to me about Maryland,” says Gordon, director of student education for the department of internal medicine and assistant professor at Rush Medical College. “I finally said ‘Why do you keep asking me about Maryland. I’m not from Maryland.’ He said ‘Doesn’t your ID say MD for Maryland?’ He’s in his hospital bed, and he sees me come in with my white coat on, and he could not fathom that I am a doctor.”
Gordon is African American. Only 4% of physicians are African American, and only 2% of all physicians are African American women, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
“I don’t know if it’s because we’re women or what, but we definitely have to get people to overlook their bias to even do our job,” Gordon says.
The bias might change if more African American women were physicians, Gordon says. Gordon’s story is recounted in Crystal Emery’s new book: Against All Odds: Celebrating Black Women in Medicine, which was published in conjunction with the new documentary, Black Women in Medicine.
Following the production of the movie and the book, Gordon and other black female physicians around the country have shared both the book and the movie with young girls and their parents at screenings and diversity events, to encourage them to pursue careers in medicine. These physicians who are involved in the project support Emery’s goal to increase the amount of all African American physicians to 7%, but especially to enlarge the numbers of female African American doctors, by 2025.
Rashele Yarborough, MD, Ph.D. was featured in the film’s opening sequence about medical students receiving their residency assignments on Match Day.
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“Since then, I’ve finished residency and started in my practice,” says Yarborough, a family practice physician at the Meriden Family Practice in Meriden, Connecticut. “One thing I wasn’t expecting from being involved in this project is to meet so many of the other women in the film and book at screenings and book signings. Just to meet others within such a small percentage has been wonderful, to have this connection and camaraderie.”
Both Yarborough and Gordon had very supportive parents and advisers.